Drives & Controls November/December 2023

32 n CONTROLS AND SOFTWARE November/December 2023 Is Scada dead? Let’s get this straight: Scada as we knew it is gone. The traditional automation pyramid has collapsed, and IT/OT convergence is on the rise. The next generation of solutions has arrived and is paving the way for advanced manufacturing. We are in the age of industrial digitalisation. Control and monitoring software has never been so ubiquitous. Before we can understand the purpose of Scada in Industry 4.0, we need to understand how it is changing. The technology has shifted from a tool for monitoring and data capture, to one that is shaping the smart factories of the future. One of the crucial ways this is achieved is the use platforms with open architectures. Open architectures eliminate the vendor dependence often associated with early and proprietary Scada systems. In practice, an open system is not limited to operating with one OEM’s products, or a limited number of communication protocols. This level of flexibility is key to ensuring systems are fit for purpose in modern factories. Moreover, suppliers of future-proof Scada systems must be willing to adopt and embrace new standards to keep up with the growing scale of IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) device networks. When specifying a software platform, guaranteed updates are essential, but vendors do also need to ensure long-term support for up to ten years. IT and OT convergence Another consideration is the integration of IT (information technology). Some modern platforms can integrate datasets that were previously limited to the IT space. For instance, capturing data from ERP (enterprise resource planning) or MES (manufacturing execution system) systems, alongside OT (operational technology) data from the factory floor. Data collected by IT systems can be used to streamline production processes, fix critical issues faster and make better informed decisions – but only if it is collected, transmitted and processed effectively and securely. The most effective systems can operate across both of these technology spheres. In addition, a software platform doesn’t only gather data from different hardware and IT systems, but also needs to provide data in an open format that is accessible for third parties – for example, through a Rest API. Modern Scada systems can operate like data hubs or, as an OT integration layer. Now that we understand the potential of modern Scada systems, how do engineers use this technology in their digitalisation journeys? At its most basic level, a Scada system lets an operator verify that machinery is operating correctly. However, modern systems should allow an operator to use Scada data to determine how to improve or adjust equipment to maximise productivity or efficiency. At the start of any digitalisation project, a manufacturer should consider its datasets and use them to determine smart goals. Is achieving better energy efficiency a key goal? The platform should be capable of identifying areas of high energy usage, and this is where the organisation should start their process. Is improving capacity to produce customised projects a goal? In this case, data on equipment availability will be key. For a user to make informed decisions on digitalisation, having access to full datasets is key. Without having clear visualisation of all the data produced from a facility – whether this is related to energy usage, productivity, downtime or something else – it is impossible to embark on an informed Industry 4.0 journey. In fact, proper investment in data-collection technology should come before any other smart factory investment, including any hardware. Upgrade challenges A common challenge faced by engineers when updating Scada systems is setting up new automation projects. Overhauling ageing Scada systems can land engineers with a significant programming burden. This is particularly challenging as industry struggles with skills shortages. However, good systems can remove the need for complex programming. The philosophy of Copa-Data’s Zenon platform, as an example, is to set parameters instead of programming. In practice, this means an extensive library of pre-designed static and dynamic elements and symbols. No prior knowledge of programming is needed and projects can be created by clicking instead of coding with engineers having to write tens of thousands of lines of code. This can result in significantly less downtime for manufacturers switching their systems and, crucially, a reduced need for investment, recruitment and training. Ease-of-use is crucial for next-generation Scada to be implemented in an Industry 4.0 project. Frankly, the only good digital tools you will invest in, are the ones you will actually use. There is no doubt that Industry 4.0 is transforming the way that manufacturers operate, but it is also transforming how Scada systems work, and what businesses should expect from them. The days when simple data capture was enough are long gone. To fulfil Industry 4.0 goals, Scada systems must be much more advanced. As digitalisation goals become more ambitious, how is technology for data capture and analysis changing? Stefan Reuther, a board member at the industrial software specialist, Copa-Data, examines the role of Scada in the Industry 4.0 era.